ZAP – The weather could have been better for the 50th anniversary of Zip to Zap on Saturday, but then again it was somehow fitting that it would be cool and windy.
That’s how the weather was in 1969, when a couple thousand people, mostly college students, converged on the tiny town. They came for a good party that weekend in May, one that drew national media attention, got out of hand on Friday and ended with National Guard troops clearing them out early on Saturday.
This Saturday, though, there was no conflict and, instead, much reminiscing about the first Zip to Zap. People came from all over the area and from hundreds of miles away to tell stories or just be a part of something that is uniquely North Dakota’s.
“We started making plans as soon as we heard they were having this,” said Charlene White, of Minneapolis. White, 54, and April Erie, 37, were decked out in ‘60s garb, Erie admitting hers was a little Goth, too, and were taking in the events on Main Street. Their trip fit with plans for Erie’s birthday celebration, and, as a former resident of the area, White was happy to bring her. White couldn’t resist getting her picture taken with Kim Nordland, of Zap, who was wearing round sunglasses, a head band and fringed outfit. She’s one of the organizers of the event, which Zapites have held every 10 years, and said it came together quite easily.
“We started planning about a year ago,” Nordland said, adding there were "about eight regulars" on the committee. She was 12 when the original event occurred, but her outfit was a recent purchase.
“You can get anything on the internet,” she said.
The feel of the day was much less tense than it was for a while in ’69, said Kevin Carvell, then editor of the Spectrum at North Dakota State University. He visited and joked with former Guardsmen, likely some of the ones who pushed the partyers out after a night that included a Main Street bonfire to fend off the cold and some collateral damage to fuel the fire. They didn’t want to be there in 1969 and the college kids really didn’t want them there, some throwing beer cans at the trucks as they entered town.
“Now they’re delighted to be here,” Carvell said. “All is forgiven.”
Carvell and others at the Spectrum promoted the ’69 event with inside jokes in tiny print in the paper’s masthead. Soon, some clubs and fraternities were planning to make the trip. Carvell resigned as editor, left NDSU and headed to his hometown of Mott, but first made a publicity sweep at colleges across the state. The idea caught on and was soon beyond the scope of what he could have imagined.
North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger was there in 1969, too. Saturday, as he ate fleischkeuchle with Eugene and Eldora Sailer, of Zap, he was wearing the Army issue coat he wore in ’69. That didn’t go unnoticed by Bruce Christianson, of Minot, who was a freshman at Minot State in ’69. He shook Jaeger’s hand and pointed to the coat.
“This is the coat I wore to kick you out of here,” Jaeger said.
Among the first to arrive in ’69 was Guy Edwards, of Denver. He was a freshman at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., and might hold the distinction of being the only person to get kicked out of jail that weekend. After a television interview when he arrived, he and his traveling companion checked out Main Street and wandered into the city auditorium. There were two jail cells in the back and they threw their gear there.
“They were the only two beds in town,” he said. The next morning they awoke to a Guardsman pointing a bayonet at them.
“He said it was time to go,” Edwards said.
Go they did, to Beulah, Jaeger’s hometown. They were run out of there and also out of Hazen, before settling in Riverside Park in Bismarck. It was a much calmer affair there, with firewood provided and better behavior from the partyers. Edwards lucked out again, meeting up with a bunch from Bemidji, Minn., that had traveled in a rented moving truck. He slept in the truck that night.
Edwards would later serve in the South Dakota legislature, was a Rapid City council member for five years and interim mayor for six months.
On Saturday, the 5K and 10K runs went on as planned in the morning, in spite of temperatures in the mid-40s and some spitting rain. The stage was ready on Main Street but sat empty as the band, which was to play from 4 to 8 p.m., set up instead in the city auditorium, where many dances have been held over the years. Midday, there was a steady line of people ready for fleischkuechle in the fire hall, and firefighters served close to 1,000. And empty shoes sat outside the inflatables, where kids were sliding and jumping. The event’s not meant to be a money maker, Nordland said. If they break even, great. She doesn’t see it becoming an annual event.
“I think we’ll keep it every 10 years,” she said.
T-shirt sales were brisk, beer was flowing, and people were enjoying themselves. By 4:30 p.m., the hall was half full and the rain had stopped.
“It’s a very good party,” Nordland said.